Jail Trade School Might Be the Solution


He had less than three minutes to speak at the National Jobs and Skills Summit, but Steve Fordham didn’t pull any punches about the job skills shortage in the Upper Hunter, or the solutions government should be looking at.

Among his ideas is turning prisons into trade colleges with Mr Fordham suggesting people serving three years in jail study a traineeship and those serving four years, an apprenticeship.

“The system already does education, and it is good, but it could be expanded to include traineeships and apprenticeships,” Mr Fordham told The Hunter River Times this week.

Mr Fordham is managing director of Blackrock Industries based in Muswellbrook and was the sole voice of the Hunter at the Summit aimed to find solutions to the job and skill crisis now facing Australia.

The situation is not suddenly new, according to Mr Fordham.

“Female unemployment, disability, indigenous, unskilled labour are all issues that have been going on for a very long time,” he said.

While there were plenty of problems outlined, it was solutions that he wanted to bring to the table.

Mr Fordham told listening ears that career focus hits students in Year 11 and 12 but this should happen from year 7.

“We have national book week in schools, why not national job week and bring large industries to schools to create career paths,” he said.

Career guidance councillors should have a stronger focus in schools, and he says subsidies to cover education costs for apprentices and trainees as well as mums looking to get back into the workforce should be available.

Mr Fordham said he was concerned at what seemed to be a big push to talk about climate change at the summit, a conversation that has significant ramifications on the local economy.

“From a local resident perspective, it is not just the climate war but a war on our jobs and on our industry.”

He likened the Upper Hunter to District 12 of the Hunger Games saying billions and billions of dollars goes into the national economy with very little in comparison coming back.

“What I see is if we are going to start weaning ourselves off coal, we should start weaning ourselves off coal royalties and put that money back into the Hunter.

In closing, Mr Fordham glanced toward the Australian Coat of Arms and suggested the government do as the kangaroo and emu on the emblem.